Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Anger: A path towards vice or virtue

We are used to Jesus curing people, or preaching, and forgiving. But this week in our Gospel, we get a scene we aren’t used to: Jesus making a big scene, and being angry. John tells us: “He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,

as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” (John 2: 14-16).

Anger is something that is a part of our emotions. And while sometimes “anger” comes up in confession, whenever someone confesses it, I try to get a little bit more information about the context of the anger. Because anger is certainly not always sinful. Our emotions are different than the anger that is a sin. But the question is what causes it, and where does it lead, because anger can lead to good actions or it can lead to seriously sinful actions.

Where anger can be a problem is when it is self-centered. This kind of sinful anger results in impatience with the weaknesses of others; it can be caused by a sense of entitlement or a “me first” mentality. We see it in the angry child who does not want to share their toys; the person in the line at the store who is angry about not being served first; the person with road rage who is tailgating; the person yelling at the telemarketer making minimum wage and calling them during their meal.

Now of course the Church distinguishes emotions from actions. You can’t control emotions from occurring. It’s OK to be annoyed with someone or angry; we have feelings of anger towards people on the road, at the office, on TV with politicians, with family, etc. But we can control what we do with those emotions.

So with respect to anger, on the one hand, it’s important to look at the causes of it. Some are angry because of something else going on in their life, such as stress. Others are angry because they are lacking love, or perhaps are just fearful about something. Or sometimes anger towards someone gets buried over the years, so they are short tempered with them about one thing but really are upset about something unresolved long, long ago. Selfishness can be a cause of anger too; a person not seeing anything other than their own position, or wanting to get their way.

While we all get angry, when anger emerges, we should look back on our anger, and see what our conscience tells us about why we got angry. We’ll likely learn whether it was justified or not.

Sometimes we know deep down we made a mistake and need to apologize to someone for use of language or our tone, because words can leave a lasting impact. It is important to argue even with loved ones and not bottle up things that trouble us, but we don’t want that to lead to using harsh, condemning words, or thinking silence is a substitute for saying “I am sorry.”

When we get angry, it’s also good to have a plan on dealing with it. Sometimes it helps to take a deep breath, to step outside, or as I’ll sometimes mention to kids in confessions if anger comes up, to go to our room for a bit or hit a pillow to try to calm down. Prudence is a helpful virtue here – it prevents us from doing things rashly.

Other times when we look back on our anger, we should examine if it’s related to the sin of pride. Pride is where we put ourselves at the center, and sometimes anger can emerge because someone challenges us and tells us something we don’t want to hear but that we need to hear. Or, we can get angry when we lose control, so need to assess if we are trying to actually help someone or if we are trying to be controlling of their life or their decisions. We also need to be mindful of how Jesus washed the feet of others showing humility, and look at ourselves and make sure we do the same, not becoming arrogant or self-centered, which can often be the root of anger.

Jesus’ anger though is like none of this. He’s not angry because he’s stuck in line to get into the Temple. He’s not angry because people aren’t listening to Him. He’s not angry because He’s not getting His way. Rather, He is angry because he sees a great injustice. People are not concerned about serving God; rather they are concerned about making money and treating the Temple in a callous way. His anger leads to a response not to cause harm to others, but to show through His actions that things have to change.

And this is where anger can actually be a good thing. When we see people being bullied, being mistreated; when we see the attack on the unborn; when we see human suffering, it should cause us to be angry. But that anger shouldn’t mean we go and yell or blast people on social media; it hopefully causes us to try to help others. Just yelling about something requires follow up. And Jesus of course shows how much He loves the Father by trusting in the Father’s plan, laying down His life out of love for us all.

Anger than doesn’t mean yelling or getting into someone’s face. What it does mean is our conscience sees something wrong, and then we decide to act on it to bring about change. Sometimes we might not see the fruits of our labor, but it’s also important to avoid apathy, thinking there’s nothing we can do or nihilism and not caring about anything or just giving up on the world.

Through it all, Jesus sees the good in us all – this is why God chose to live with us and to die for us, for He sees the good. Seeing evil in the world, or seeing people make bad decisions should make us angry. But hopefully that anger inspires us to use the tools God has given us to truly help others. Speaking our minds when bad things are happening is tough and costly – the cleansing of the Temple is one of the last acts of Jesus before His Passion – but it is so important to not ignore the wrongs in ourselves, in the lives of others, and in the greater world, but to truly make a difference. Sometimes we may have to upset the apple cart. But when we do, we just might cause people to think, and to discover the truth, and to help them find the way to make the changes they need to make to better respond to the love of God by changing their lives.

Have a blessed week,

Fr. Paul